The event is the premier utilities event annually in Europe with 12,000 attendees, and 600 exhibitors. I was honoured to be asked, and of course accepted, without hesitation.
The talk wasn’t video’d but you can check out the slides I used above. In slides 3-29 I outline why utilities need to adopt new business models (revenues are falling due to factors like falling costs of generation, the rising popularity of renewables, climate change, etc.). In slides 33-40 I discuss some of the evolutionary business models open to utilities. While slides 41-60 outline some of the more revolutionary opportunities open to utilities – many being enabled by the Internet of Things, and utilities digital transformation.
With all the changes occurring, utilities need to disrupt, or they themselves will be disrupted.
The slides by themselves can be a little hard to grok, so I’ll go through them below. I should note at the outset that while many of my slide decks can be over 90, or even 100 slides, I kept this one to a more terse 66 😉
And so, here is my explanation of the slides
A little about me
The IoT section start
IoT has been around for a while, but the recent explosion in interest in it is down to the massive price drops for sensors, combined with near ubiquitous connectivity – we’re heading to a world where everything is smart and connected
According to the June 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report [PDF], the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to surpass mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018
Depending on who you believe, Cisco reckons we will have 50bn connected devices by 2020
While IDC puts the number at 212bn connected devices. Whatever the number is, it is going to mean many devices will be creating and transmitting data on the Internet
What kinds of things will be connected? Well, everything from wind turbines (this is an image from GE’s website – they have a suite of IoT apps which can “improve wind turbine efficiency up to 5%” which in a large wind farm is a big deal)
A nod to one of my favourite comedy movies (“See the bears game last week? Great game”), while also introducing the next three slides…
Planes – according to Bill Ruh, GE’s CEO of Digital, GE’s jet engines produce 1TB of data per flight. With a typical plane flying 5-10 flights per day, that’s in the region of 10TB per plane per day, and there are 20,00 planes – that’s a lot of data. Plus, GE is currently analysing 50m variables from 10m sensors
That depends, different devices have different data profiles for creation and consumption of data, depending on geography, time of day, and day of year
Because, as Mary Meeker pointed out in her 2016 State of The Internet report, global data growth has had a +50% CAGR since 2010, while data storage infrastructure costs have had a -20% CAGR in the same timeframe
243,000 refrigerated shipping containers connected through AT&T
AT&T have a partnership with GE for intelligent lighting solutions for cities and public roadways
In the equipment and heavy machinery space, nearly half of all tractors and harvesters in the US are connected through AT&T
While in healthcare, AT&T predicts that wellness tracking and virtual care solutions will reach 60m homes & 74m users by 2019
Then there’s outdoor advertising. AT&T knows data analysis. For years they owned the largest telemarketing organisation in the US. Now, with cellular data, they can completely transform outdoor advertising. Previously for advertising hoardings, the amount of footfall, or vehicular traffic passing a sign could be guesstimated, but no more info than that was available. But now, because AT&T knows where everyone is, their gender, age, and approximate income, they can transform this business.
Recently they carried out a study with a customer who wanted to advertise to women in the Dallas area who earned over $75,000 per year. They queried the data and found that the customer only needed to buy two billboards in all of Dallas, to adequately cover the target demographic. Needless to say the customer was impressed
They’re far from being alone in this – Verizon have an Internet of Things platform as well called ThingSpace Develop
While t-mobile has announced that it is teaming up with Twilio for its Internet of Things play
And it is not just cellular technologies they are using – there are also other low bandwidth radio protocols such as Lora and Sigfox which the telcos are looking at to broaden their reach
I spoke to a senior exec at a telcom firm recently (who for obvious reasons preferred to remain unnamed) and he told me:
“Telcos want to own everything, everywhere“The internet of things is certainly one way for them to get there
How is all this impacting the data centre industry?
“As datasets grow ever larger, the most efficient way to perform most of these computations is clearly to move the analysis functions as close to the data as possible”
In other words, instead of bringing all the data back to the data centre to be processed, more and more of the analysis will need to be performed at the edge
As a graduate biologist, this reminds me of the reflex arc – this arc allows reflex actions to occur relatively quickly by activating spinal motor neurons, without the delay of routing signals through the brain
So there will be a greater need for event stream processing outside the data centre – this will bring about faster responsiveness, and reduce storage requirements
This also explains the rise of companies such as EdgeConnex – companies who provide proximity, and lower latency
And the rise of new designs of racks for hyperscale computing, such as the 150kW Vapor.io Vapor Chamber which, according to a study conducted by Romonet is $3m cheaper per MW and reclaims 25% of floor space
Well, there are many ways the internet of Things will impact the utilities vertical, but one of the least obvious, but most impactful ones will be the ability to move energy demand, to more closely match supply. If you’re curious about this, I’ve given 45 minute keynotes on this topic alone
Another way the Internet of Things will help utilities is renewables management (such as the GE example referenced earlier), and preventative maintenance applications
And finally, energy information services will be a big deal, for everything from remote monitoring for seniors, through to device maintenance, and home management
I received extremely positive feedback on the talk from the attendees. If you have any comments/questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
The utilities industry has typically been change averse, and often for good reasons, but with the technological advances of the past few years, the low carbon imperative, and pressure from customers, utilities are going to have to figure out how to disrupt their business, or they will themselves be disrupted.
I gave the opening keynote at this year’s SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach on the topic of the Convergence of IoT and Energy (see the video above). Interestingly, with no coordination beforehand, all the main speakers referred to the turmoil coming to the utilities sector, and each independently referenced Tesla and Uber as examples of tumultuous changes happening in other industries.
What are the main challenges facing the utilities industry?
As noted here previously, due to the Swanson effect, the cost of solar is falling all the time, with no end in sight. The result of this will be more and more distributed generation being added to the grid, which utilities will have to manage, and added to that, the utilities will have reduced income from electricity sales, as more and more people generate their own.
On top of that, with the recent launch of their PowerWall product, Tesla ensured that in-home energy storage is set to become a thing.
Battery technology is advancing at a dizzying pace, and as a consequence:
1) the cost of lithium ion batteries is dropping constantly
2) the energy density of the batteries is increasing all the time
(Charts courtesy of Prof Maarten Steinbuch, Director Graduate Program Automotive Systems, Eindhoven University of Technology)
With battery prices falling, solar prices falling, and battery energy density increasing, there is a very real likelihood that many people will opt to go “off-grid” or drastically reduce their electricity needs.
How will utility companies deal with this?
There are many possibilities, but, as we have noted here previously, an increased focus on by utilities on energy services seems like an obvious one. This is especially true now, given the vast quantities of data that smart meters are providing utility companies, and the fact that the Internet of Things (IoT) is ensuring that a growing number of our devices are smart and connected.
Further, with the cost of (solar) generation falling, I can foresee a time when utility companies move to the landline model. You pay a set amount per month for the connection, and your electricity is free after that. Given that, it is all the more imperative that utility companies figure out how to disrupt their own business, if only to find alternative revenue streams to ensure their survival.
So I ventured to the conference with high hopes of what I was going to learn there. and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. IBM had some very interesting announcements, more on which later.
However, there is one area where IBM has dropped the ball badly – their Cloud Services Division, Softlayer.
IBM have traditionally been a model corporate citizen when it comes to reporting and transparency. They publish annual Corporate Responsibility reports with environmental, energy and emissions data going all the way back to 2002.
However, as noted here previously, when it comes to cloud computing, IBM appear to be pursuing the Amazon model of radical opaqueness. They refuse to publish any data about the energy or emissions associated with their cloud computing platform. This is a retrograde step, and one they may come to regret.
This was made more stark for me because while at InterConnect, I read IBM’s latest cloud announcement about their spending $1.2bn to develop 5 new SoftLayer data centres in the last four months. While I was reading that, I saw Apple’s announcement that they were spending €1.7bn to develop two fully renewably powered data centres in Europe, and I realised there was no mention whatsoever of renewables anywhere in the IBM announcement.
Even better than Apple though, are the Icelandic cloud computing company GreenQloud. GreenQloud host most of their infrastructure out of Iceland, (Iceland’s electricity is generated 100% by renewable sources – 70% hydro and 30% geothermal), and the remainder out of the Digital Fortress data center in Seattle, which runs on 95% renewable energy. Better again though, GreenQloud gives each customer a dashboard with the total energy that customer has consumed and the amount of CO2 they have saved.
This is the kind of cloud leadership you expect from a company with a long tradition of openness, and the big data and analytics chops that IBM has. Now this would be A New Way to Think for IBM.
But, it’s not all bad news, as I mentioned at the outset.
As you’d expect, there was a lot of talk at InterConnect about the Internet of Things (IoT). Chris O’Connor, IBM’s general manager of IoT, in IBM’s new IoT division, was keen to emphasise that despite the wild hype surrounding IoT at the moment, there’s a lot of business value to be had there too. There was a lot of talk about IBM’s Predictive Maintenance and Quality solutions, for example, which are a natural outcome of IBM’s IoT initiatives. IBM has been doing IoT for years, it just hasn’t always called it that.
I was asked to speak at the recent SAP TechEd && d-code (yes, two ampersands, that’s the branding, not a typo) on the topic of the Internet of Things and Energy.
This is a curious space, because, while the Internet of Things is all the rage now in the consumer space, the New Black, as it were; this is relatively old hat in the utilities sector. Because utilities have expensive, critical infrastructure in the field (think large wind turbines, for example), they need to be able to monitor them remotely. These devices use Internet of Things technologies to report back to base. this is quite common on the high voltage part of the electrical grid.
On the medium voltage section, Internet of Things technologies aren’t as commonly deployed currently (no pun), but mv equipment suppliers are more and more adding sensors to their equipment so that they too can report back. In a recent meeting at Schneider Electric’s North American headquarters, CTO Pascal Brosset announced that Schneider were able to produce a System on a Chip (SoC) for $2, and as a consequence, Schneider were going to add one to all their equipment.
And then on the low voltage network, there are lots of innovations happening behind the smart meter. Nest thermostats, Smappee energy meters, and SmartThings energy apps are just a few of the many new IoT things being released recently.
Now if only we could connect them all up, then we could have a really smart grid.
The slides for this talk are available on SlideShare.
GE’s Digital Energy business produced this infographic recently, based on the results of its Grid Resiliency Survey measuring the U.S. public’s current perception of the power grid. The survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of GE from May 02-06, 2014 among 2,049 adults ages 18 and older and from June 3-5, 2014 among 2,028 adults ages 18 and older.
Given the fact that hurricane Sandy was still reasonably fresh in people’s minds, and that polar vortices meant that early 2014 saw particularly harsh weather, it is perhaps not surprising that 41% of the respondents East of the Mississippi were more willing to pay $10 extra a month to ensure the grid is more reliable. A further 34% of those leaving West of the Mississippi would be willing to pay more for a more reliable grid.
What is most surprising is that the numbers are so low, to be honest. Especially the 41% figure, given that energy consumers East of the Mississippi had three times as many power outages as those living West of the Mississippi.
What’s the alternative to paying more? Home generation? Solar power is dropping in price, but it is still a very long term investment. And the cost of a decent generator can be $800 or more. And that’s just to buy it. Then there’s fuel and maintenance on top of that. As well as the inconvenience an outage brings.
Here in Europe, because most of the lines are underground, outages are very rare. The last electricity outage I remember was Dec 24th 1997, after a particularly severe storm in Ireland, for example.
The really heartening number to take away from this survey is that 81% of utility customers expect their energy company to use higher levels of renewables in the generation mix. If that expectation can be turned into reality, we’ll all be a lot better off.
I attended this year’s North American SAP for Utilities event and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things I found there.
The utilities industry (electricity, gas, and water) are regulated industries which can’t go down (or at least, shouldn’t go down). Because of this, the industry is very slow to change (the old “if it ain’t broke…” mindset). However, with technology relentlessly enabling more and more efficiencies at the infrastructure level, utilities need to learn how to be agile without affecting their service.
This is challenging, sure. But, on the other hand, organisations like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are incredibly nimble, updating their technologies all the time, and yet they have far better uptime figures than most utilities, I suspect (when is the last time Google was down for you, versus when did your electricity last go out?).
Having said all that, at this year’s event I saw glimmers of hope.
There were a number of areas where change is being embraced:
Customer Service – utility companies have traditionally not been very consumer friendly. This is the industry which refers to its customers as rate payers, and end-points. However, that is starting to break down. This breakdown has been hastened in some regions by market liberalisation, and in all areas by the huge adoption of social media by utility customers.
Utility companies are now starting to adopt social media and utilise some of the strategies we have spoken about and written about so often here.
What was really encouraging though, was to see that one of the four parallel tracks on the first day of the conference was dedicated to usability (which admittedly is more geared to usability of apps for utility employees, but there’s a knock-on for its customers too), and even better, on the second day of the conference, one of the four parallel tracks dedicated to customer engagement!
In-memory computing – SAP has been pushing its SAP HANA in-memory computing platform to all its customers since it was announced in 2010. As mentioned previously, utility companies are slow to change, so it was interesting to listen to Snohomish County PUD CIO Benjamin Beberness, in the conference’s closing keynote, talking about his organisation’s decision to go all-in on SAP’s HANA in-memory platform. I shot an interview with Benjamin which I’ll be publishing here in the next few days where he talks about some of the advantages for Snohomish PUD of in-memory computing.
Cloud computing – and finally, there was some serious talk of the move to Cloud computing by utilities. In the Utility Executive Panel (pictured above), Xcel Energy‘s CIO and VP, David Harkness said that before he retires his organisation will have closed their data center and moved their IT infrastructure entirely to the cloud. And he then added a rider that his retirement is not that far off.
Given that this was the week after the celebrity photo leaks, there was also, understandably, some discussion about the requirement for cybersecurity, but there was broad acceptance of the inevitability of the move to cloud computing
I have been attending (and occasionally keynoting) this SAP for Utilities event now since 2008 so it has been very interesting to see these changes occurring over time. A year and a half ago I had a conversation with an SAP executive where I said it was too early to discuss cloud computing with utilities. And it was. Then. But now, cloud is seen by utilities as an a logical addition to their IT roadmap. I wouldn’t have predicted that change coming about so soon.
Disclosure – SAP paid my travel and accommodation to attend the event.
18 million residential accounts and one million business accounts. Right now they are billing residential accounts every three months and they are managing 75 million meter reads per annum.
With the move to smart meters, Centrica will take electricity reads every 30 minutes and gas reads once per day. This means a shift from 75 million meter reads per annum to 120 billion meter reads a year. 120 billion – that’s billion with a b. That’s a phenomenal amount of data to have to deal with.
What will utilities do with this sudden influx of data?
Apart from the traditional billing function, many utilities have no idea what, if anything, they will do with the data. And this is hardly surprising, this is a new level of energy consumption information that we have not had access to previously. And furthermore, utilities have not traditionally been in the data business.
So, what should they do with all this new data? Obviously, I have a couple of ideas (more on that later), but likely you do too, and possibly so too do some utilities.
However, to really maximise their chances of coming up with a good use of the data, it’s best to expose it to as many people as possible. Crowdsource the ideas.
Utility companies should now give serious consideration to exposing their data, anonymised, through the use of openly documented API‘s and allow developers have at it. They should then run hackathons and competitions to see who can come up with the best applications making use of the data. Why not?
A couple of ideas – how about an application to highlight exceptional energy use. For example, would customers pay an extra €1 a month to receive an alert if their elderly relative’s lights didn’t go out at 11pm, or come on again at 8am? Or for people with holiday homes, would they pay €1 a month to be alerted if the lights went on when they’re not there? Or if the electricity went off (and there was food in the freezer, or worse beer in the fridge!), for example?
If utilities were to open the data to developers, who knows what amazing ideas would emerge – developers are after all, as we are fond of saying, the New Kingmakers.
I’m moderating a panel discussion on social media and utilities at next week’s SAP for Utilities event in Copenhagen. My fellow panelists will include two representatives from utility companies, and one from SAP.
However, there are also other very compelling use cases for social in utilities. In the US over one third of the workforce is already over 50 years old, and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 30-40% of the workforce will retire in the next 10 years. This is not confined to the US and so recruitment and retention are topics of growing concern for utilities.
Now, utilities are rarely seen by young graduates as a ‘cool’ place to work. But this can change. Remember a couple of years back when Old Spice was the cologne your grandad might wear? Old Spice rolled out a social media campaign with a superb series of YouTube ads (the first of which has been viewed 45 million times). In the month which followed their sales went up 100%, and a year later their sales were still up 50%.
Videos like the one above produced by Ausgrid, while not about to rival Old Spice for viewership, do show a more human and appealing side of the company to any potential employees.
Also, when I ask utility companies whether they allow employees to access social media from their work computers, the majority of times the answer is no, or limited. Even if only from the perspective of retaining good employees, this has to change. Today’s millennials are far more likely to use social media as a way to network and find information online (see chapter four of this three year old Pew Research study on Millennials [PDF] for more on this). Blocking access to social media sites, especially for younger employees, is analogous to putting a rotary dial phone on their desk, with a padlock on the dial. Don’t just take my word for it. Casey Coleman, the CIO of the U.S. General Services Administration said recently:
Twitter is a primary source to gather information about changes in my industry. It helps the organization stay current with the latest trends and thinking.
Blocking employees access to social media stifles them from doing their job effectively, and any employee who feels that s/he is not being allowed to do their job properly won’t be long about looking for a new one.
Social media can also be used internally as a means of retaining knowledge from retiring workers, and as a way of making employees more productive using internal social collaboration tools (Jam, Huddle, Chatter, etc.).
There are bound to be more uses of social media (real or potential) that I’m missing – if you can think of any, please leave a comment on this post letting us all here know.
Also, the panel discussion is on next Friday April 19th at 3pm CET – we’ll be watching the Twitter hashtag #SocialUtils. If you have any questions/suggestions to put to the panel, leave them there and we’ll do our best to get to them.
Member States of the European Union have agreed on targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by cutting energy consumption by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20% by 2020. The ‘Europe’s Energy’ project gives users a set of visual tools to put these targets into context and to understand and compare how progress is being made towards them in different countries.
The survey asked 106 utility executives – the people that arguably know more about the energy supply and demand challenges our nation faces than anyone else – a range of questions on the smart grid, energy efficiency and related topics and issues.
We issued a press release today with some of the highlights, but to help put this week’s news into context, we also wanted to share a full breakdown of the results. Nothing earth shattering, but worth keeping in mind as the week progresses…
The annual smart grid event Distributech kicked off in San Diego Tuesday morning and — as expected — unleashed a whole series of news from smart grid-focused firms. From new home energy management products, to plug-in car software, to distribution automation gear, this is a list of trends and news from the show.
US venture capital (VC) investment in cleantech companies increased by 8% to $3.98 billion in 2010 from $3.7 billion in 2009 and deal total increased by 7% to 278, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds, flat in terms of deals and down 14% in terms of capital invested compared to Q4 2009…